When Jamie Oliver famously (and somewhat successfully) tried to convince Britain via his preferred medium – the television documentary – that they needed to improve the quality and nutrition of school lunches, the reaction from some bordered on hostile. People called him out for trying to tell them how to live their lives, how-very-dare-he and all that. The media showed images of mothers passing fried chicken and chips through school fences so their little preciouses wouldn’t have to eat what someone else found good for them (though to be fair, the media probably jumped on those photo ops, and it was probably far less widespread than they’d have had us believe).
Food is a damned sensitive subject. It is for me. I’m betting it is for you. It defines us culturally, socio-economically, and ethically. It forms the foundation of almost every ritual we share amongst friends and family (particularly if we add drink into this equation). We cannot live without it, and yet it kills far too many of us every year. Corporations have corrupted it beyond recognition, and activists the world over have dedicated their lives to rescuing it (and consequently us) and bringing it back to the nourishing, life-giving thing it was meant to be. Food.
I’ve mentioned it is sensitive for me: as most of you know, I’ve been vegan for 17 years and vegetarian for 21. I don’t yo-yo because I don’t diet and never have. I understood from a very young age that healthy people ate well all the time, so it was simply (haha) a matter of learning to do that. But I was an obese kid, a kind of chubby teen, a too-thin 21 year old and finally at a healthy weight as a uni student…broke my leg not long thereafter and within two years I was clinically obese again for the first time since I was 14. That was 2009. A year of keeping my head in the sand, and finally I got tired of all of it – the shame I felt in the skin I was in, the pain I felt as a result of carrying too much weight, the constant exhaustion, the inability to enjoy moments I knew should be wonderful. This is very painful to discuss, though I know it’s been said a million times. Each of us has a unique relationship to our bodies, and I did not feel well when I was overweight.
Fast forward – and I do mean fast forward, because it took quite a while to lose the weight – to 2014 and I’ve been able to stay at a healthy weight for about the same length of time it took me to lose it – roughly 2 1/2 years. All of this – picture included – serves only for me to prove my credentials… because what I really want to write about is how I got from the picture on the left to the picture on the right…and have stayed there. I know this is cringy. I promise you, it’s cringier for me than it is for you. But I’ve learned a lot of stuff along the way that I’d like to share because I think it might be helpful.
Nobody wants to be told what or how or when or why to eat, largely because most of us know more or less the answers to all those questions. The problem is that it becomes easy to get so caught up in life that we stop paying enough attention to the details, and food is a very important detail, indeed. When I first began trying to eat better, what I found most shocking was that I wasn’t eating nearly enough…of the right things. I had to fill my plate so full of the whole foods I wasn’t getting enough of, there was very little room left for what I’d previously been getting too much of – namely refined carbohydrates and overprocessed vegan substitutes.
So this series will seek to answer those pesky questions – what, when, why, how, and maybe a bit of who and how much even – hopefully without any judgement and with as much humor as I can muster for something that stings for so many of us.